No sooner had the Supreme Court on April 19 revived conspiracy charges against senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case that conspiracy theories started doing the rounds.
Leaders such as RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh insinuated that the development was scripted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to keep Advani and Joshi out of the presidential race.
The Presidential election is barely three months away.
Within an hour of the Supreme Court’s order, Lalu Prasad Yadav alleged that the development smacked of a conspiracy within the BJP and pointed out that CBI, the prosecuting agency in the Babri case, came under the “control” of the prime minister. Digvijaya Singh expressed the same sentiments.
However, Yadav and Singh may not be entirely right. Even if the case against Advani and Joshi, among others, would resume, it does not stop PM Modi from nominating either of the two as BJP-led NDA’s presidential candidate. Even if Advani and Joshi were not caught in Babri tangle, neither would have been PM Modi’s choice for the presidential candidate.
Not only Advani and Joshi, but also other probables such as incumbent president Pranab Mukherjee, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Manipur governor Najma Heptullah and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat are not Narendra Modi’s favourites for the top constitutional post. Here's why
1. Pranab Mukherjee
Despite having diverging political background and ideology from that of Modi, Mukherjee had the brightest chance to get reappointed till Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly election results had been declared. However, with BJP’s historic performance, particularly in UP, where it won by three-fourths majority, the equations have changed.
The BJP-led NDA is evenly poised regarding the numbers of the electoral college, which is made up of elected members of Parliament and legislative assemblies. The NDA is about 25,000 votes short of the half-way mark of 549,442 votes.
However, with the support of parties such as Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal and K Chandrashekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtriya Samithi, NDA would hope to cross the bridge.
In such a scenario, NDA would not be compelled to re-nominate Mukherjee to the post. Rather, PM Modi would like to install someone of his own choice.
2. LK Advani
On March 15, PM Modi and Advani attended a meeting of Somnath temple trust. BJP president Amit Shah and former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel also attended the meeting. Reports suggested that PM Modi proposed the name of Advani as the next president of India at the meet.
Modi is believed to have said the presidential post would be a befitting "gurudakshina" for Advani.
However, Modi would unlikely pay this "gurudakshina" to Advani. In fact, Advani would be one of the last persons to be picked by Modi for the presidential post.
Modi would like to install someone as president with whom he would have an extremely cordial relation, or who would not have opposed him at any point in time.But ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Advani was most vociferous in his opposition to Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Advani did not attend BJP’s June 2013 National Council meet where Modi was declared the chief of party’s election management committee. The same year in September, Advani skipped the parliamentary board meeting which announced Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
In fact, Advani had released a letter expressing his anger against the then party president Rajnath Singh and the manner in which the BJP was functioning. He had also resigned from all his party posts. It was only after the intervention of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that Advani withdrew his resignation.
Would PM Modi have forgotten this opposition from Advani at that delicate point in his political career? Unlikely.
This is the reason why after winning the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi did not assign any ministerial berth to either Advani or Joshi. Instead, he created a "Margdarshak Mandal" to sideline the two veterans.
Advani himself nursed prime ministerial ambitions. Modi is unlikely to work freely with Advani as president who still sulks and presents critique of the NDA government.
3. Murli Manohar Joshi
Although Advani and Joshi do not belong to the same faction, the latter too was against the projection of Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. At the Goa meet, Joshi was learnt to have opposed Modi saying his ascension would lead to personality cult.
However, Joshi suddenly started lobbying for the president’s post. Last year, he met Mohan Bhagwat and reportedly discussed the matter with him. Joshi is learnt to have met PM Modi too over dinner at the prime minister's residence in the national capital.
The RSS was not averse to Joshi’s candidature for the president’s post. However, his opposition to Modi when the latter needed the maximum support from his colleagues and seniors would not be forgotten so easily. Hence, it is again unlikely that Modi would support Joshi’s candidature.
4. Sushma Swaraj
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is identified with Advani camp. She was not amenable to Modi as BJP’s PM face. In fact, after Advani, Swaraj was a claimant to the PM’s post by virtue of being the then leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. Between Advani and Modi, she was seen standing with the former.
Ever since she underwent kidney transplantation last year, Swaraj is learnt to have requested for an easier assignment. President’s post would be most suitable for her. But in the backdrop of the previous experiences, Modi would most likely ignore Swaraj's nomination to the president’s post.
5. Najma Heptulla
Manipur governor Najma Heptulla is another BJP politician said to be in the race for Raisina Hill. According to reports, she had expressed her wish to run for the presidency to BJP president Amit Shah in December 2016.
PM Modi would apparently not pick Heptulla because of her Congress background. Till 2004, she was a Congress member in the Rajya Sabha. She joined the BJP just ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Modi does not have the same compulsion as the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to appoint a compromise candidate in APJ Abdul Kalam. Though the "Missile Man" turned out to be the one of the most popular presidents, he would not have been appointed if Vajpayee would have been in the same position as Modi finds himself now.
Without facing any such constraints, PM Modi is likely to favour a leader whose entire political career has been spent in the Sangh or the BJP. And Heptulla does not fit in that mould.
6. Amitabh Bachchan
BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha created a flutter last year by floating Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bhachchan's name for the president’s post. He had said, "It will be a matter of pride if Amitabh Bachchan, a cultural icon, is made president of the country." He added that Bachchan has achieved many a milestone in cultural and social fields and if he becomes the president, it will bring a good name to the country.
Modi may have favoured Bachchan as the successor to Pranab Mukherjee. The Bollywood actor has been the brand ambassador of Gujarat tourism ever since Modi was its chief minister. The two share an excellent rapport. Bachchan also promotes Modi’s flagship programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
However, Bachchan lost the race when his and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s names figured in the Panama Papers tax evasion case. The superstar's name figured as director in four companies. Three of those companies were registered in Bahamas and one in Virgin Islands. Aishwarya Rai was made the director in one company. Later, she was made a share holder of the company.
Amitabh Bachchan has denied having evaded tax. He has also denied having any knowledge of investments made in tax haven countries in his name.
However, despite the denial, Modi is unlikely to nominate someone as president’s whose name is linked to any corruption case or controversy. Hence, Bachchan, despite standing the brightest chance, seems to have lost out in the race.
7. Mohan Bhagwat
In March, BJP’s ally Shiv Sena proposed the name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the top job. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the party will support Bhagwat if BJP decides to project him as the presidential candidate. He was of the opinion that somebody with a clean image should occupy the post. He also said Bhagwat was a suitable choice if India has to be made a "Hindu Rashtra".
Raut, the editor of Shiv Sena's mouthpiece Saamana, said Bhagwat as president would be in line with hardliners like PM Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
But in order to keep the RSS away from any controversy, Modi would not like to have Bhagwat as president. Moreover, he would like someone who would be pliable to his demands. Bhagwat does not fit in that category. Besides, the RSS chief has already denied being interested in the chair.
Modi’s choice would be someone with whom he never had any strained relationship, with whom he has an extremely cordial relation, who would be ready to oblige him in legislative matters, who firmly believes in the Sangh’s ideology and who is a firm believer of Indian tradition.